Parents' Guide to

Howl's Moving Castle

By Matt Berman, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 9+

Young girl turned old lives with a wizard.

Howl's Moving Castle Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 9+

Based on 8 parent reviews

age 14+

Beware of Subtle Messages

As other reviewers have noted, this is a light-hearted, whimsical, meandering fantasy tale. On the face of it, it seems appropriate for middle-to-late elementary school-age children. There are few expletives (d---, thrice) and a moderate number of assorted euphemisms. The few violent scenes are cartoon-like in that they only vaguely describe injury or are more slapstick in nature. One of the main characters does get smashingly drunk, the ill-effects the morning after does, however, serve as a minor warning to young readers. There is also a holiday where alcohol is widely available and it implied that women are playfully and desirably pursued in the festive atmosphere. These all are very minor incidents in the story; one could easily read and miss them entirely. My concern in reading this with my daughter were the more subtle and steady messages throughout the book. Those can be divided into two areas, romance and magic. Romance: This is a romance as much as it is a fantasy. Dianna Wynne Jones's novel contribution to the genre seems to be that she turns many tropes on their head: the man, for instance, is the one that gets perfumed and prepares for hours in the bathroom. The book, in large part, is about three daughters that are romantically pursued by various men (and worried over by their eldest sister). The subtle message that saturates this book is that girls should be pursuing a romantic interest. This is compounded by the fact that the girls are all teenagers, the oldest is 18, the youngest 14. The age of the middle daughter seems to be closer to the youngest. Both of the younger two daughters seriously consider marriage in the book though there are some hints that the marriage will have to wait until they are older. The age of the men is more indeterminate. One is clearly 15, and another appears to have been highly educated (although still young). I visualized him as being around 25. The final suitor might be considerably older (and pairing with one of the younger sisters). The severity of message is mitigated somewhat by the few mentions of age or maturity. The characters are essentially interchangeable, and they all behave like young adults. I suspect that my daughter would not recall their ages if I asked, and it was easy for me to visualize them as being older. Magic: The magic was not as quaint as I expected. There is one scene where our main (and favorably portrayed) characters draw a pentagram on the floor and write various arcana in preparation for a spell. There are also some allusions to the existence and disapprobation of black magic. A skull (often the object of comedy in the castle) sits on a shelf. Although it seems that the "good" witches shun black magic, there are hints that one of our main characters uses it when he deems it necessary. No ill consequences come of the decision, and, if there is any lesson, it is that the distinction between white and black magic is irrelevant. The same issue occurred with one of the main characters. He is alternately described as a demon and as evil, but he never does anything ill nor is he ever portrayed in any other light than positive. In fact, he was my favorite character. With both black magic and demons, then, there is a mixed message: they're clearly wrong and evil but they're also harmless. These are not explicit messages, and a prepared parent can talk through these issues and make sure the right lessons are taken from the book. I'm uncertain what lessons an unsupervised child would take from the reading, however. In hindsight, I would have waited until my daughter was older before we read this. It wasn't a disaster, and we've done no lasting harm, but with so many other good books out there, I would have looked for something with less of a focus on teenage romance and a less ambiguous message about evil. Still, it is hard to say when this would have been appropriate. The story was fast paced and appropriate for younger and middle elementary school age kids. By the time my daughter is the age of the main characters, this will be simple but perhaps still fun and easy read.
age 8+

Wimsical and quirky, good for all ages.

This is one of those rare books where someone asks you what age it's for and you just kind of shug. There is a Princess Bride-like fairytale quality to it that is simtaniously charming and reminiscant of satire; since the very beginning for instance, we see Sophie question her potential, since the eldest child in the folk tales always seem to fail. Unlike in the Gibly film, there is no war or bird-monster to intensify the plot. Instead we mostly get to relish Howl and Sophie's witty, hillarous dynamics as they journey along in the moving castle, solving puzzels and learning from one another. One major aspect off the plot, though, is simply "Howl is off soducing women again *sigh* the heck are we going to do about him." Nothing is overtly inappropriate, but you certainly get a different reading out of it as an adult. By far the best part of this book is the charecters. If you come from the Gibly film like me, you may start off skeptical. Who is this bitter, frank, and combative woman and what happened to the sweet little Sophie? And why is our gentle, mysterious Howl so overtly vain and dramatic? Well, welcome to Diana Wayne Jones's version. Give it a few chapters and you'll love it. It's it somehow both difficult and fun to stay mad at Howl for anything. He is this perfectly irristible personality, with a Gatby-like uplifting confidence, and sense of more abiguity that keeps you on your toes. It's all summed up in this quote:  "Half the time I think he doesn't care what happens to anyone as long as he's alright--but then I find out how awfully kind he's been to someone. Then I think he's kind just when it suits him--only then I find out he undercharges poor people. I don't know, Your Majesty. He's a mess" That's right. And we love that about him. Now on to Sophie. The feminist in me just delights in this charecter. She is stubborn as anything, clever and fearless. It's also cool to me that she lives most of her life in the body of a ninety year old, demonstrating to readers that you don't have to be attractive to be a female protagonist, or to find love in the end. In a way this story is a little like a reverse beauty and the Beast, where Howl has to fall in love with Sophie (gradually, or the course of many a secretly playful quarrel) not for her looks, but for her personality. The romance is also a wonderful and heartwarming aspect of the story, though it goes down very differently then in the movie. In the movie's ending, Sophie saves Howl's life, and he looks up at her and says "oh Sophie, your hair looks just like Starlight. It's beautiful!" In book that scene goes something like this: Howl (waking up): dammit, I've got a hangover! Sophie (who just transformed into her younger self): no silly you hit your head on the floor Howl: I have to go, I have to go save that fool Sophie! I loved both versions so much. This book is a delightful read full of spunk and energy. I would highly recommend.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (8 ):
Kids say (12 ):

Diana Wynne Jones writes the old-fashioned kind of fantasy: fascinating and original, but slow and meandering. Once Sophie settles in at the castle, it's hard to say what the story is about for the next couple of hundred pages. That's not to say it's boring -- far from it. But, much like the castle that wanders around in the wilderness, it doesn't seem to go much of anywhere, or to have a definite purpose.

Eventually there's a nice climactic showdown; though much of it happens offstage, so to speak, a few secrets and surprises are revealed, and it's wrapped up satisfyingly. Die-hard fantasy lovers adore this and other Wynne Jones books, but those who need action, adventure, or a clear plotline may find it too murky.

Book Details

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